Choosing an accountant is an important part of adulting, but it certainly isn’t easy. (Unless you live in NYC and can choose SL Tax, of course!) Like any major decision, the key to finding a good accountant is to do your research. That includes meeting them in person, where you’ll get a chance to ask them the questions that matter most to you.
But what even are those questions? Well, we’re here to help you figure that part out with this introductory guide to choosing an accountant!
What is their area of expertise?
Accountants come in all shapes and sizes, and their backgrounds and specialties are just as varied! That means you need to find an accountant with the right set of skills for your unique situation.
Are you running a small business? Find someone with experience in that, particularly in your field. Are you working a full-time job with a W2 and feel totally comfortable doing your taxes on your own? Find an accountant anyway, one who specializes in individual tax prep and long-term financial planning. A good accountant should be able to find ways to save you money on your tax returns, and it’s always a good plan to involve a financial advisor to help you get ready for retirement.
How long have they been doing tax prep?
More experience is generally better, but make sure your prospective accountant is up to date on the latest tax news regardless of how long they’ve been in the game. As a general rule, try to find an accountant with at least five years of experience.
What licenses and certifications do they have?
Unless you have a good reason for choosing otherwise, you’re going to want a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) to do your tax prep. The CPA certification takes 150 certified hours of education to achieve (in comparison, a bachelor’s degree generally requires only 120 hours). The CPA title is generally a good assurance that your accountant knows what they’re talking about.
In addition to CPA certification, you may want to check if your accountant has additional licenses or certifications that are specific to your needs. For example, if you run a retail operation you may want to find someone who specializes in retail tax requirements. Do your research and know what matters in your industry, then find someone who fits the bill!
Will they have your back during an audit?
This is a pretty good litmus test for finding a trustworthy tax professional. While audits are unlikely, any good accountant should be ready and willing to stand by their work during an audit (for an additional fee, of course). If an accountant sounds reluctant about being present during an audit, it’s a pretty sure sign that you should look somewhere else!
What do they charge?
Do they charge by the hour? Or by the return? Understanding how your potential accountant bills is very important, and can be a deciding factor when it comes to choosing a tax preparer. But it can also serve up some important clues into overall quality. For example, if an accountant wants to charge you for reviewing past returns (a common practice when meeting new clients) it could be a sign that they’re more interested in taking your money than in protecting it! Reviewing past returns typically takes only 15 to 30 minutes, and most high-end CPAs do it for free.
Who will actually work on your returns?
Many large accounting firms are guilty of the bait-and-switch when it comes to tax prep. You meet with a CPA who has tons of experience, you feel totally comfortable handing therm all of your financial information, and then… some poor intern in a broom closet does all the actual number crunching. Make sure you know exactly who will do the work on your return, and hire an accountant you can trust.
Choosing an accountant isn’t easy (unless you choose SL Tax!) but luckily it’s not something you’ll have to do often. Most individual filers choose to retain the services of the same accountant year after year, so once you find the right fit for your needs you’re likely to keep them for some time!
If you have any questions about choosing an accountant, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re always happy to help.